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Discretion is not a one-way street

September 26th, 2002

Stephen Odgers of the NSW Bar Association gives a useful critique of NSW Opposition leader John Brogden’s call for mandatory minimum sentences. He says

“An example is murder. Brogden will create three classes of murder, carrying mandatory minimum sentences of life (for murder of a police officer, in or out of uniform), 25 and 15 years. To test the merits of this policy, we should consider some examples.

Is 15 years or more appropriate for a son or daughter who gives a drug overdose to their terminally ill parent as an act of mercy killing? Or for a young man who was sexually abused as a child by an older man for a period of years, does not go to the police because he fears no-one will believe him and then bashes his abuser, killing him although he only intended serious harm? What about a woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse and decides, finally, to take revenge?

What about a pub brawl gone wrong? What about a mentally disabled offender whose capacity for judgement was impaired? A spur-of-the-moment act by an 18-year-old of good character who is deeply remorseful and unlikely ever to reoffend?”

Odgers is spot-on in saying that issues like the probability of reoffending are more relevant than “making the punishment fit the crime”. I’d be much more impressed, though, if he followed his logic through and argued for long sentences for habitual/career criminals, even if their offences are not as serious as murder. Consider for example, a violent burglar, or a standover man who severely injures somebody as part of an extortion racket. The community would be better off if such people were locked up until they were too old to do any harm. The same applies to some types of sex offenders, who are at very high risk of reoffending.

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  1. James Farrell
    May 27th, 2004 at 16:43 | #1

    Given John’s long history of strident demands for leniency towards career criminals and standover men, this about-face showed great courage. I’d almost forgotten how astinished and moved I was when I first read it. What more could you ask for, Jack?

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